What tone and expectations are conveyed by the opening poem? By the title?
Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole
What do we learn about the social world of Alice? To what types of anxieties does she seem prey? (size either too large or too small; entrance too easy or too restricted, 26)
What are some conundrums, paradoxes and concepts introduced in the opening chapter?
What are some features of the illustrations by Tenniel? How might they have affected Victorian readers’ interpretations of the book?
Can you think of earlier writings to which Carroll may be indebted? (e. g. Gulliver’s Travels)
Does Carroll’s book parody or criticize some other varieties of children’s literature? (17, 26) What does “How doth the little crocodile” make fun of?
What is Alice’s immediate aim in this chapter, and what may this represent? (19)
Chapter 2: The Pool of Tears
Why can’t Alice enter the garden as she desires? (23) What are some causes and effects of her identity confusion? (swimming in her own tears, etc)
What different points of view are shown in her encounters with the Wonderland mouse? (29-30)
What are some features of this book’s humor? (literalness, unexpectedness, charm)
Chapter 3: A Caucus Race and a Long Tale
What is parodied by the mouse’s history lesson? Is there any point to the grammatical and lexical puns? (knot, not, etc.)
What is the “caucus race” and how is it organized? (36) What is the significance of the fact that all are awarded prizes?
What is the point of the visual poem presented? Were there earlier instances of visual poems?
Chapter 4: The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
Can you explain the chapter’s title?
What metacommentary appears in Alice’s reflections on her adventures? (45)
What humor is caused by the fact that Alice is now much larger than the rabbit and his gardener? What is notable about the gardener’s speech? (47)
Chapter 5: Advice from a Caterpillar
What attitudes are parodied in the song, “You are old, Father William”?
What frustrations of a child’s life are presented in Alice’s relationship with the caterpillar? (contradicted, sense of illogic, 60)
Which features of speech retard Alice’s communication? (61, 63, lack of clarity, opposing definitions) How does she finally come to control her size?
Chapter 6: Pig and Pepper
What is added by the picture on page 70 of the Duchess and her child?
What are some unexpected aspects of this scene?
What are unusual qualities of the Cheshire cat? (74)
Chapter 7: A Mad Tea Party
What absurdities in social interaction and word usage characterize this party? (80, meaning what one says and saying what one means, irreversibility of grammar; arbitrary reasons, 86; literal use of figures of speech; revival of dead metaphors in speech)
What jokes are made on the relative meanings of time? (82, personification of Time) On negative numbers? (84, relative numbers)
Chapter 8: The Queen’s Croquet Ground
Is it significant that Alice silences the Queen? (93)
How is the metaphor of a card game used in this scene?
What hypocrisies characterize the behavior of guests at the croquet game, including Alice? (97)
What characterizes the Queen’s behavior? Is she an effective ruler? (93 arbitrary yet futile)
What characterizes the croquet game? (all quarrel, no rules)
Since Victorian England was in fact ruled by a monarch, and one with a now-dead consort, might there have been any contemporary relevance to Carroll’s presentation of royal rule?
Chapter 9: The Mock Turtle’s Story
How has Alice’s relationship with the Duchess changed? What is parodied in the Duchess’s tendency to see “morals” in everything? (104)
What is a Gryphon? (107)
What form of lessons has he studied? (110-111) What makes his account humorous?
Chapter 10: The Lobster Quadrille
What is parodied in the interpolated songs, “Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare . . . .” and “I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,”? (120, 121)
What is the effect of the Mock Turtle singing a song to the soup in which he will be served? (122)
Chapter 11: Who Stole the Tarts?
What seem features of the justice system in Wonderland? What “evidence” is presented by the Hatter and how is it received?
How are judgments made? (summarily!) What is meant by “suppression”? (130)
Chapter 12: Alice’s Evidence
What is the reader expected to make of the accusation that the prisoner has written in a false hand? (137-38)
What is the point of the poem presented as evidence? Why isn’t the evidence clear? (difficulty of pronoun reference, 138)
What is the sequence of sentence and verdict? (140, sentence first, verdict afterwards) Does this make sense? Do you think Carroll is making a point, and if so, about what?
What disrupts the story? Is this an appropriate or inevitable ending?
Is it fitting that Alice should become a part of her sister’s dream?
Do the characterizations of adults (and especially older women) in this book bode well for Alice’s happiness as an adult?
To what extent do you think Carroll's Alice captures a child's world? A child's world as seen by an adult?
What seem features of Alice's character? Is this what we would expect of a Victorian girl heroine, or are there some unusual traits?
Which features of her experiences do you think reflect her Victorian world and the social class of her upbringing? Which seem to reflect more general aspects of a child's reality?
Through the Looking Glass
(a shorter alternate version appears below)
What central metaphors dominate this book? Do you think they are consistently followed?
What themes are suggested by the use of a chess board? (pre-determined outcomes which nonetheless require movement by the characters--responsibility vs. structural approach)
By the use of nursery rhymes? (sense within nonsense; nonsense at the base of language)
Chapter 1: Looking-Glass House
According to Alice, what is notable about the image as viewed in the looking glass? (some things hidden, 157)
What role does Alice take in this book? How would you compare this with her experiences in Alice in Wonderland?
What is notable about the typography of the poem “Jabberwocky”?
What are some interpretations of the text of “Jabberwocky”? Do you find all of these satisfactory? (163) What types of interests or etymological studies may lie behind the creation of such a poem?
Chapter 2: The Garden of Live Flowers
What do you make of the fact that flowers talk? (a poetic figure of speech which had been used in Tennyson’s poem “Maud")
What are some implications for the plot of the fact that the looking-glass world will be constructed as a game of chess? (Queen most powerful player, aim of pawn is to be queened)
What points are made about the relativity of spaces? (175, running to keep in same place)
Chapter 3: Looking-Glass Insects
What are some points made about naming? What are some suggested purposes for the practice of naming things? (181)
Chapter 4: Tweedledum and Tweedledee
What are some comic results of the near identity of these twins? What is the point of their long poetic narration of the tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter? (191-97) How do the auditors respond?
Why do Tweedledee and Alice quarrel about who dreams whom in this book? (196-97, issue of control and identity) Is the issue resolved?
What do you make of the mock battle between Tweedledum and Tweedledee? Is there any serious point behind this representation?
Chapter 5: Wool and Water
What is referred to by the chapter’s title?
How has Alice’s status changed? (joins the Queens) What does she learn from their conversation?
What is the point of the Queen’s rule of “never jam today” (204)? Of the discussions of backwards memory? (204) What are implications of the fact that the sentence can precede a (supposed) crime? (Victorian debates on free will vs. predestination, etc.)
Of the discussion of learning to believe what seems unbelievable through effort? (207, arbitrariness of belief)
Chapter 6: Humpty Dumpty
What is Humpty Dumpty’s problem? (according to nursery rhyme predestined to fall)
What are some multiple and arbitrary meanings of words revealed in his conversation with Alice?
What do you make of the ending of the poem, “In spring, when woods are getting green, / I’ll try and tell you what I mean”? (225) What makes the poem comic?
Chapter 7: The Lion and the Unicorn
What are “Anglo-Saxon attitudes”? (227) What is parodied in the remarks on Haigha fed on hay, etc.? (228) The use of the pronoun “noone,” as in “nobody walks much faster than I do”? (228-29)
How does this chapter end? (They enact the nursery rhyme about the lion and the unicorn) What makes this absurd?
Chapter 8: It’s My Own Invention
What anxieties does Alice experience in this chapter? (fears belonging to another person’s dream, 237) What occurs in her encounter with the Red and White Knights?
What are some things the White Knight has provided for with plans of his own invention?
What points are made in this chapter about calling and naming? (246)
Why does the White Knight’s song fail to have its intended effect? (“I’ll tell thee everything I can/ There’s little to relate”) What earlier poetry or mode of poetry does it parody? (Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence,” the Romantic ballad)
What happens to Alice when she reaches the eighth square? (250) Why cannot the White Knight accompany her further?
It has been suggested that the White Knight represents Dodgson/Carroll himself. Does this seem plausible to you, and if so, what is added to the story by this identification?
Chapter 9: Queen Alice
Does Alice gain advantages by becoming a queen? What forms of illogic or expressions of speech are represented in the speech of the red and white queens? (254, 257)
What is the function of the songs in this chapter? (258, 262, 264) Why can’t Alice cut the joint at the feast for the assembled gathering? (262)
What form of mutiny causes Alice to disrupt the Looking-Glass feast and world?
Chapters 10 and 11: Shaking, Waking
What metamorphoses bring Alice and her readers back to mundane Victorian reality?
Chapter 12: Which Dreamed It
What final reflections does Alice make on the nature of dreaming and reality? (272 she is part of the dream of others, even as they part of her dream) Why is this an important question?
What does the fact that the final poem is an acrostic add to the ending? (272, specificity, a personal touch)
How do the Alice books treat the topic of religion? Would this view be consistent with Charles Dodgson's pious Anglican views?
Which of the two Alice books did you prefer? What is added to the original tale by the incidents of Through the Looking Glass?
By profession Lewis Carroll was a logician, even a quite successful one; which aspects of Alice may reflect preoccupations of logicians and philosophers?
Page numbers are to the Barnes and Noble edition, 2004.
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
What does the opening poem express about its author’s attitude toward Alice? What does he seem to feel about adult life?
Which character traits cause Alice to enter the looking-glass world? How are its features different from those of the ordinary one?
What is Jabberwocky about? Can you interpret all its words, with help from Humpty Dumpty’s later explanations? What are its linguistic features?
What is the literary original for the idea of the “garden of live flowers”? On page 122, what is Carroll’s point in punning on “boughs”?
What is the symbolism of the chessboard? Why must Alice start the game as a pawn? What are the characters of the kings and queens she meets?
What are some oddities of the train journey? Of the woods through which she passes?
What characterizes the behavior of Tweedledum and Tweeledee? What prior text prophecies their behavior? Are there other instances in the Alice books in which events follow a nursery rhyme script?
What is the point of the humor in the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter”? Why do you think Carroll chose to tell this tale in a narrative poem?
What seems to be referred to on p. 145 in the discussion of whether Alice exists only in the Red King’s dream?
What does Alice learn in her conversations with the White Queen? How does time operate in the looking-glass world? What effects does this have on everyday events, emotions, and the system of justice?
What seems the point behind incidents in the shop and boat ride with the sheep in “Wool and Water”?
What are important features of the conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty?
What does Humpty Dumpty think is the source of the meaning of words?
What are the White Knight’s traits of mind? What is the point of the White Knight’s remarks on pages 186 and 187 about the name of the song? Of what is the song a parody? Why might the parody have appealed to Victorian readers?
After Alice becomes a Queen, what is her relation to the White and Red Queens? Does the final disrupted tea party scene provide an appropriate ending?
What is the significance of Alice’s final question to Dinah? How can the reader answer it?
(Page numbers are from the Norton Critical Edition)